The Minnesota Wild take on the Nashville Predators at the Xcdel Energy Center in St. Paul. Puck drop is slated for 7pm with this being White Out night in St. Paul. The Team will wear their white road jersey and all fans in attendance will receive a white jersey t-shirt and a poster of all five Minnesota Wild players who will be participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia. This is the last game for the Wild before the Olympic break begins, Nashville still has one more contest with Anaheim before their break starts. The Wild are coming off an impressive victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning by a 2-1 final Tuesday evening. Entering tonight’s contest Minnesota is in 4th place in the Central Division with 67 points. The Wild lead the last place Predator’s by 8 points in the divisional race with Dallas and Winnipeg in 5th and 6th places respectively with 62 and 61 points. The Wild can gain some ground on the 3rd place Avalanche with a win tonight. Minnesota could enter the break trailing Colorado by just 8 points by taking a pair from Nashville tonight. Okay that explains where the Wild are. Now they just have to do one thing, WIN. The playoff push starts now. Every game is valuable to a team that has hopes of climbing oust of 4th in the division and passing the Av’s for third in the division, a rather reasonable goal, as I’ve state many a time. The Wild are getting healthier heading into the break even with the injury suffered by defenseman Marco Scandell just 2 minutes into Tuesdays game vs the Lightning. Scandella suffered a knee sprain and tests have shown no significant damage to the knee. He now has three weeks to rehab it before Minnesota returns to action on February 27th up in Edmonton to take on the Oilers. In other injury news, Johan Gustafsson has been recalled from the Iowa Wild to back up Darcy Kuemper tonight because of lingering abdominal soreness suffered by Niklas Backstrom, another situation that the 3-week Olympic break should cure. In some personnel related moves, Stephane Veilleux has cleared waivers and been assigned back to Des Moines. His call up was related to the rash of foot/ankle related injuries suffered by some of the Wild’s veterans. Minnesota has also announced a trade today. Iowas Wild player and Minnesota Wild prospect Chad Rau has been traded to the San Jose Sharks organization for Curt Gogol. The trade involves two forwards, both of whom will report to the NHL team’s AHL franchises.
Darcy Kuemper will get the start in goal for the Wild tonight, his 12th straight start. His record stands at 7-3-2 with a goals against average of 2.50 and a .918 save %. Back on January 12th Kuemper registered his first NHL shut out, against the Predators, a 4-0 win for the Wild. Prior to that, in the second meeting of the season between these two squads, Josh Harding posted a 2-0 shutout. Overall this season the Wild have a record of 2-1 vs the Predators.
The Forward lines for the Wild should look pretty much the same as last game. The team held an optional skate this morning with several players opting to not skate so the exact line combos won’t be know until warm ups but here’s the projected lines. The top line should remain the same with Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikeal Granlund. These three are a threat to score every time they step onto the ice. Look for this line to skate a lot of minutes early in the game to try for an early goal to put the Pred’s in a hole and force them to chase from that point on. Line #2 features Dany Heatley, who scored his 11th goal of the season last game. That goal coming just :34 into the third period proved to be the game winner. Heater skated with Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker on what some have termed the Dany-Daycare line. The third liners tonight are Nino Niederreiter, who had the first goal for the Wild Tuesday, a power play marker in the opening period. Speaking of power play goals, Minnesota has now scored a power play goal in each of their past four games. Nino is joined on the third line by Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. This trio has been the Wild’s most consistent grouping game to game this season and spends most of their time defending against opponents top scoring lines, and shutting them down. On the fourth line tonight that leaves Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, and Justin Fontaine. This non-typical fourth line will be tasked with creating turnovers and generating some offense against Nashville’s 2nd and 3rd lines. This trio has a combination of speed and grit that tends to get under opposing teams skin and leads to power plays for the Wild.
Defensively the Wild thought they had the pieces back together when Jared Spurgeon returned from a broken foot. That lasted all of two minutes as Marco Scandella went down with a knee injury. With Scandella out of action tonight the D-pairs look like this. Ryan Suter will be skating with jared Spurgeon as Jonas Brodin drops to the second pair with Nate Prosser. Prosser has really made the most of his opportunity to play regularly when the injury bug bit the team. He spent most of the first half of the season watching from the press box as a healthy scratch but has become a regular on the blue line with his hard-nosed consistent play and even displaying a bit of a scoring touch including a pair of game winners. The final pair tonight is Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Stoner was a scratch last game but finds himself right back in the mix due to Scandella’s injury.
Nashville may be the last place team in the Central Division but they have 7 points more than any other last placed team. Their 59 points would see them at least to places higher in the standing in any other division. This team can score, as they average 2.47 goals a game to the Wild’s 2.34. Defensively is where the difference shows up as Nashville allows an average of 2.90 goals an outing as opposed to Minnesota’s 2.43. Simply put the Wild need to do what has worked for them recently. They must score first, stay out of the penalty box, score on the power play and limit Nashville’s shot attempts, shots on goal and scoring opportunities. If Minnesota can do that and avoid losing anyone to injury tonight they should be able to enter the Olympic Break on a winning note and with some momentum to carry them into the stretch run of the regular season. I’ll be back after the action tonight with a bit of recap, opinion and analysis of Wild vs Predator’s. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting out in proud team USA fashion, “Let’s Go Wild, LET’S GO WILD, USA, USA, USA!!!”